Is it love? Or is it obsession?

When does love cross the line into obsession, and what does true love look like?

Somewhere along the line, literature and movies have convinced us that true love isn’t really true unless it’s intense, passionate and all-consuming — the kind of love where you long to be with your beloved all the time. You ache when you are apart. You become not two individuals but one. No one else matters.

For hundreds of years, we have romanticized the mutual suicides of Romeo and Juliet who would rather die than be without each other. We watch plays or movies like “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Reader,” “A Place in the Sun” or “Anna Karenina.” We sit enthralled at such love.

But this isn’t real love. It’s obsession. And it does not lead to a sustainable relationship.

“Hooked” on love

If your love isn’t passionate, intense or even possessive, you may not feel that you have found your “soul mate” — the kind of love that comes along once in a lifetime. But obsessive love is not the kind of love that lasts.

Sometimes, the intensity of this kind of “love” even morphs into jealousy and fear. We romanticize a kind of love that can even turn to the madness of abuse and suicide. Can we recognize love that has crossed the line?

A timeless definition of love

There is a timeless definition of love that’s literally thousands of years old, and this description of love is just as applicable today as it was when it was first written. It’s found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, verses 4-7.

Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy.

True love isn’t jealous of other relationships. It is patient and inclusive. It is kind and gentle.

Love is not self-serving. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs committed.

True love is not selfish. It’s not always about “me and what I want.” Instead, love means “your needs are just as important as mine.” True love forgives and forgets. It isn’t angry, it doesn’t seek revenge, and it doesn’t keep track of who did what to whom.

Love is truthful, not deceptive

Nothing destroys love quicker than deception. Being truthful in a relationship rules out hiding money, having affairs or viewing pornography. True love tells the truth and loves the light of day. It doesn’t abide secrets.

Love trusts. It always hopes, and it always perseveres.

True love means having another’s best interests at heart. A person who loves truly doesn’t give up on the object of his affection. He remains committed to the relationship. You can trust him to do what he says he’ll do.

True love means accepting each other — every day — for who you are. True love won’t try to change a wife’s hair color or her body. It won’t try to change the way a husband dresses or the way he squeezes the toothpaste.

Love that lasts for 50 years may not be the stuff of romantic movies, but it is the stuff that brings lifelong happiness.

Susan Swann

Read about the power of families to seek after the one in Susan's book: Coming Home: A Mormon's Return to Faith.